2014 Top Teachers
Photos by Jim Pile
Everyone remembers one special teacher who touched their lives and went above and beyond to inspire impressionable young minds. These teachers work tirelessly, both inside the classroom and during their “off time” at home. These teachers make a difference and truly enjoy what they do. After tallying nearly 7,000 votes this year, we are honored to profile 10 of these special types of teachers below.
2014 Top Teacher Overall
School: Linkhorn Park Elementary School, Virginia Beach
Years as an educator: 5
Grades and subjects taught: Fifth-grade math, science and social studies
Special recognitions/awards: Linkhorn Park Elementary’s 2015 Teacher of the Year, Compass Keeper, October 2014
Why did you choose teaching as a career? I am a teacher, a counselor, a fixer of boo-boos and broken hearts, and a statistical analyzer to make individualized plans for each of my students to be successful. I am an ear to listen, a familiar face in times of crisis, an empowerer of self-confidence, “funtertainment,” school event planner, and an advocate for children. I am a representative for teachers, a coach, and a life-long learner. I am a kinesthetic learner and a visual, kinesthetic, and auditory teacher. There is no other profession that touches all people no matter which career path they chose to partake.
Your favorite part about being a teacher? I love that I get to make an impact on people. I am a teacher for the reward of that “one child” who was the most difficult leaving a letter on my desk at the end of the year about how they are going to miss me and how I made their life better.
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? I have learned to listen—to my peers, to my children, to parents. I step back and let others talk. I learn a great deal more that way.
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? I read a speech every year to my kids that lets them know they can be whatever they want to be and I will always be in their corner. Should they ever need me, now or later down the road, I am here for them. I want them to know that they are loved and cared for and that they can be whatever it is that they aspire to be. I want them to know that I always have and always will believe in them.
What is one lesson/project/or initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? I have incorporated physical activity into my innovative classroom practice. Students take statistical analysis of their physical activity and log it over time. I make learning real life and something that they want to improve upon. They know that not only will I be pleased with them and their work, but they will be proud of themselves as well.
From her nomination: “Her positive attitude spreads to her students and made her classroom a productive and engaging place to learn.” —Kieran Poulos, parent
School: Granby High School, Norfolk
Years as an educator: 18
Grades and subjects taught: All levels of Spanish language and culture, including International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement
Special recognitions/awards: An 11-year breast cancer survivor who is currently in treatment; ambassador and top fundraiser for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Granby High School Teacher of the Year, 2011.
Why did you choose teaching as a career? I wanted to be a teacher since I was in second grade because I had great teachers. When I was younger I had a speech impediment, and I met some wonderful speech pathologists, and I really wanted to be like them. I was inspired even at that young age.
Your favorite part about being a teacher? No two days are ever the same. Every day is a new day. I like that intrinsic gratification when the students are learning and when they want to learn for themselves.
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? To be flexible. Not everyone’s brain works the same. You learn how to modify and manipulate lesson plans and activities to reach as many students as possible. Your kids will recognize and read you, and they can tell if you like what you do. If you show them that you love to teach, usually they will want to learn out of respect for you.
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? Besides passing their exams, I also want them to know that they must work hard in life. They see me and that my cancer has come back. They see my struggle. I want them to know too that they must keep fighting. Life is tough, but you have to be tougher. You will have good and bad days, and you need to make the best of the good ones.
What is one lesson/project/or initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? When I was diagnosed with breast cancer the first time, we started the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure at Granby, and it was just three of us. Within this past year we’ve been acknowledged as the leading school in the region. I am proud that we have raised thousands of dollars for the support, awareness and hopefully the eradication of breast cancer.
From her nomination: “She makes class very entertaining and fun to be in. She has battled cancer three times. She had to take last school year off, but now she is back teaching, still with that infectious smile of hers.” —Kay Lyliston
School: St. Gregory the Great Catholic School, Virginia Beach
Years as an educator: 23
Grades and subjects taught: Kindergarten and Pre-Kindergarten
Special recognitions/awards: Article published in the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) magazine focusing on communication with Pre-K parents through various platforms including Edmodo and others; co-presenting the Power of the Hashtag# at the NCEA Convention in April 2015; EdCampVaBeach Co-organizer in September 2014
Why did you choose teaching as a career? Teaching chose me. I never felt pulled to do anything else. I am blessed each day to see the joy in children as they learn new things. As a Pre-K teacher, I get the amazing opportunity to build a foundation of learning that will last a lifetime for my students.
Your favorite part about being a teacher? My favorite part of being a teacher is the people I have the opportunity to work with every day. Each student and family has a unique story to share.
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? I have learned as a teacher you must make a sincere connection with each and every child. Each child must be treated as an individual. They all learn and grow at different times and in different ways.
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? I want my students to leave my classroom knowing how very special they are and to embrace their individuality. I also want them to know how much God loves them.
What is one lesson/project/or initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? For my students, I am very proud of the Dr. Seuss Day for Pre-K. Dr. Seuss said, ‘You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.’ We spend the day celebrating Dr. Seuss by welcoming special guest readers, tasting green eggs and ham, making hats, and celebrating Dr. Seuss. The teachers have also been known to dress up as The Cat in the Hat. For myself and my fellow educators, I am very proud of being one of the organizers of the first EdCamp in Virginia Beach, EdCampVaBeach, last September and look forward to organizing it again next September.
From her nomination: “As we all know, Pre-K sets the foundation for a child’s learning future. Mrs. Crish makes this experience for the students a creative, fun, and very meaningful learning year. The children love her, look up to her, and seem to thrive while in her care.” —Lisa Booth, parent
Kelli L. Caras
School: John Yeates Middle School, Suffolk
Years as an educator: 4
Grades and subjects taught: Middle school science
Special recognitions/awards: STEM club creator and sponsor; John Yeates Middle School Rookie Teacher of the Year; 2011, 2012, 2013 STEM Teaching Tools Award (STTA) from AFCEA Hampton Roads Chapter; Curriculum Development Committee; Hampton Roads Top Teachers 2012
Why did you choose teaching as a career? I enjoy learning and was fortunate enough to have great teachers as a child, who inspired me to pursue teaching. It’s a privilege to be able to pass on a love of learning to students.
Your favorite part about being a teacher? Every class is different. Some days it’s discussion and the other days labs or research. The students are always bringing new ideas and questions to work with as well.
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? No matter how prepared you think you are, you are never fully prepared. There is always a part of the lesson that won’t go as planned, or a question asked that you are not sure of the answer to. Also always, always have a back- up plan—those internet outages and fire drills can ruin the best lesson plans.
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? I want them to be able to think for themselves, know how to find answers to their questions, and how to be open to new ideas.
What is one lesson/project/or initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? A new project I have introduced this year is an animal reflection. The assignment allows the students to identify with an animal and explain their relationship with the world through each unit covered. This not only helps them to see the lesson applied in the real world but to practice writing and research skills.
From her nomination: “Ms. Caras brought great humor to the classroom. I loved learning in her class, and she always taught us everything we need to know. She always made sure we had it down. If we ever had trouble, she would make sure that was taken care of.” —Nicolas Emmanuel, student
Amy D. Insley
School: York High School, Yorktown
Years as an educator: 15
Grades and subjects taught: Elementary music; English 9–12; drama 9–12; adjunct professor at Old Dominion University and Christopher Newport University
Special recognitions/awards: Michael Sullivan Distinguished Service Award, 2013, York High School; Top Teacher, Coastal Virginia Magazine, 2014
Why did you choose teaching as a career? As a theater professional, teaching workshops was part of my job. The energy and excitement that came from sharing my love for the theater in an educational setting was unparalleled—I had to become a teacher!
Your favorite part about being a teacher? Making a difference for a student, no matter how big or small.
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? Each student is different—it’s up to us as educators to meet them where they are and adjust our approach so that it gets through in the way most needed by the individual.
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? The skills they have learned in my theatre classes are useful far beyond those walls. The confidence, public speaking, and critical thinking learned over the year can accompany them into other classes, careers, and life.
What is one lesson/project/or initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? This year we produced our first annual cabaret night open to all. It was designed to include the special needs population in all ways—I’ve found that this population of folks is underserved when it comes to arts exposure and participation, and one of the reasons I’m so passionate about arts education is that it can be such a haven for all types of people. It was a beautiful evening, and we were able to reach out to members of the community who do not usually get to do or see theater. It was a night of growth and transformation for everyone, including me.
From her nomination: “Ms. Insley is the best teacher I have ever had. I was a pretty shy kid entering high school, but she saw talent and promise in me from the start. She really changed my life and my future. I now work as a professional actor and performer. Her guidance, support and love shaped me into the man I am today. I will forever be grateful, and her biggest fan.” —Tony Rodriguez, student
School: Western Branch Middle, Chesapeake
Years as an educator: 23
Grades and subjects taught: Eighth-grade English
Special recognitions/awards: Nominated for the Sallie Mae first-year teacher award, 1992–1993; Teacher of the Year at Crestwood Middle, 1998–1999; recognized in Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers, 2000; and Reading Teacher of the Year, 2006, at Crestwood Middle.
Why did you choose teaching as a career? I come from a family of teachers and couldn’t imagine doing anything else—it’s who I am.
Your favorite part about being a teacher? I love being able to help people, and I especially love being able to help kids understand and master a new concept or skill. Learning is something that no one can ever take away, so I believe that what I do to help students learn each day really does matter. It also means a lot to me that my classroom remains a safe place where all students feel respected, appreciated and supported as learners.
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? I’ve learned time and again that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. I’ve seen the difference it makes in students’ lives and attitudes about themselves and about learning when they know a teacher cares.
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? A lot! I want them to know that they have the tools and the practice it takes to be successful writers and readers and that they know how to speak and write correctly in every situation—job interviews, college applications, resumes, etc. I also want them to know how much I care about them.
What is one lesson/project/or initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? There are powerful lessons I’ve had the privilege of leading on the Holocaust through outstanding works such as Night and The Diary of Anne Frank. I am proud of being one of our school’s sponsors of the National Junior Honor Society and being a part of the service projects completed by those students. And I am proud of the collegiality and team mindset shown by the faculty at my school.
From her nomination: “Several students have commented that she is their favorite teacher because she truly cares about them as people, not just as students. Every child deserves to have a teacher like Mrs. Denbow at least once in their lifetime.” —Kambar Khoshaba, colleague
Camilla C. Walck
School: Princess Anne High School, Virginia Beach
Years as an educator: 20
Grades and subjects taught: International Baccalaureate higher-level biology, 11th and 12th grade; earth science; environmental science; biology; pre-IB biology; adjunct professor at Tidewater Community College
Special recognitions/awards: Teacher of the Year, PAHS, and Citywide Finalist Teacher of the Year, 2003; Radio Shack National Excellence in Teaching Award, 2004; Society of High School Scholars Award, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2011–2014; National Award Winner, Christopher Columbus Foundation Life Science Teacher Award, 2012; Claes Nobel Top Ten Educator of the Year, 2014; Top Ten Finalist, Shell National Science Teacher of the Year, 2014
Why did you choose teaching as a career? I truly love the process of learning, and I love working with kids. Also, biology is amazing.
Your favorite part about being a teacher? Working with students who inspire me every day to be the best that I can. The energy level and excitement found in a child’s face is priceless.
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career? Not to take myself too seriously and to live each day. I have learned the importance of allowing my students the freedom to express themselves and learn from their mistakes. Mistakes can teach you more than you can learn from always having the right answer.
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? I want to instill in my students a love of science as well as an appreciation for all life has to offer. I want my students to leave my classroom knowing I love them and the world is full of opportunities that are only limited by their desire to discover them. I want my students to value the importance of community service as they discover the joy of helping others.
What is one lesson/project/or initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? In one of my favorite lessons, I dress up as Einstein and teach my students about Einstein’s life—they in turn teach ‘Einstein’ about all the great discoveries since his death.
From her nomination: “My son was a student of Dr. Walck’s and is now an honors student at James Madison University in the Department of Science and Engineering. Dr. Walck’s teaching style encourages and promotes creative freedom and inventive minds—she gives students the tools they need to be world-class analytical critical thinkers, global achievers, and amazing people.
She knows what her students need to know and helps them to learn and yearn to know more. In Dr. Walck’s class, the opportunities for life become endless.”
—Janet Carter, parent
School: Southampton High School, Courtland
Years as an educator: 11
Grades and subjects taught: Sophomore and freshman English
Special recognitions/awards: Teacher of the Month; chairperson for several committees; part of the School Leadership Team
Why did you choose teaching as a career? My childhood was challenging; the only reliably consistent adults in my life were teachers, so I developed a love and respect for that profession. I tried several career paths before I came into teaching and felt for the first time this was the life I was meant to be living.
Your favorite part about being a teacher? Teaching high school provides the unique opportunity of watching students mature into the young adults they will become. I love the chance to be part of that: to open their minds to new ideas through literature, to show them the world as a place of opportunities and a place filled with people different from themselves.
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career?
Students are not going to learn the way that I do, or the way that students five or 10 years ago did. I read what they read. I try to stay connected with what is important to them. I try to create lesson plans that are modern and technology-enhanced and help them connect what we are learning to their worlds.
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? I want them to believe in the power of words, whether they have read the words of others who inspired them, or they have developed the skills to write in a way that will inspire others.
What is one lesson/project/or initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? Key Club, the community service group that I advise. I did not start the club, but over the past 11 years serving as their mentor, I have watched them grow into a self-governed group of teens eager to serve their school and community, moving from winning district awards to being recognized as a top Key Club internationally. Their willingness to serve as well as their continued achievements never fail to amaze me.
From her nomination: “Unlike other teachers, Mrs. McHenry was there to teach. Because of her courses, I decided that I wanted to pursue a degree in English. Mrs. McHenry is a teacher who goes above the mark, ensuring that students are challenged in their work but also willing to assist in other aspects of life.” —Amanda Johnson, student
School: Suffolk Christian Academy, Suffolk
Years as an educator: 7
Grades and subjects taught: Third grade, fourth grade, Spanish (kindergarten–fifth), Music (kindergarten–fifth), drama (middle school)
Why did you choose teaching as a career? Throughout my own school days, God placed teachers in my path that had an incredible impact on my life. The influence, care and encouragement they gave was truly inspirational. This played a big part in my decision to go into teaching. If I could have an opportunity to positively influence and invest in students in the same way, I would count my life blessed.
Your favorite part about being a teacher? There are many parts about being a teacher that I love, but my favorite part is seeing the light go on when they are learning a concept. They get so excited and feel so accomplished when they have understood. Knowing that I am making a temporary investment that could result in lifelong dividends makes the difficult days easier and the good days even better.
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career?
There are numerous things I have learned on the road of education. First, the differences in the way each child learns. Because each child is unique, it is incredibly important that I teach, and each child has the opportunity to learn, in a way that is best for them. Second, and most important, is to treat each child with fairness and love. You never know what a child may be experiencing outside the classroom. Love and care can help to break through difficult walls to give the students an opportunity to reach their full potential.
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? Subject matter is important, but what I most want my students to know is that I love them unconditionally. I pray they understand that each one of them is special, has unique gifts to share with the world, and not to let anything hold them back from accomplishing their goal.
What is one lesson/project/or initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? I get to play a big part in our missions projects at school. We were able to send, through Operation Christmas Child, Christmas gift boxes to children all over the world. It was amazing to see their excitement as they gave to others. I was so glad play a part in this giving project.
From her nomination: “I watched her take each child and teach them in the way that they learned best. Students learn differently. Wendy is able to transition between auditory, visual and creative learners and have successes for every student. Teaching is not a job for her; it’s a way to invest in the lives of everyone she teaches.” —Tom Powell, husband
School: Landstown Middle School, Virginia Beach
Years as an educator: 14
Grades and subjects taught: Eighth-grade honors algebra and math
Special recognitions/awards: Dozens of awards including Norfolk Public Schools Citywide Teacher of the Year, 2005–2006 and the 2006 CARE Award, presented by Rep. Thelma Drake for contributions in education.
Why did you choose teaching as a career? I entered the teaching profession later in life, after realizing my heart and passion was working with kids. I went back to school 15 years after getting my undergraduate degree to get my master’s in education, and I am so thankful I did. I consider it a privilege to go to school each day and help cultivate a love of math that many students didn’t even know that they had inside them.
Your favorite part about being a teacher? We have amazing math teachers at Landstown, and we work together to provide the best and most innovative instruction we can. The other favorite part of teaching is the kids themselves. Each student comes to me with differences based on their life experiences, and what I try to do is to incorporate these differences into my approach so that all students can be reached. It’s amazing what a student can accomplish when they believe a teacher really cares about them.
The most important thing you have learned during your teaching career?
That the classroom environment really affects student success. Students need to enjoy class and feel comfortable and safe for optimal learning to occur.
At the end of the school year, what do you most want your students to leave your classroom knowing? On the last day of school, I always play Rascal Flatt’s “My Wish,” which pretty much sums up what I want my kids to know as they embark on high school. I’m so excited about the possibilities for their future. All year, I stress setting goals, and at the end of the year we do a project in which the kids look at what they want their lives to be after college. It’s amazing how many students let me know that they are indeed the doctor or lawyer they set about to be back in eighth grade.
What is one lesson/project/or initiative you started in your classroom or at your school that you are most proud of? I love teaching the topic of slope. I clomp around in my entire ski outfit complete with goggles and ski boots. It’s such a fun day because slope really does completely relate to skiing, and it helps the kids remember when they can visualize me with a chuckle in a crazy outfit.
From her nomination: “Mrs. Bailey really knows how to make math fun and interesting. She loves all of her students as if they were her own and will do anything to help her students succeed. She comes in early and stays after school to tutor just about every day. She is also the type of person you can go to for anything.” —Heather Hughes, student
2014 Top Teacher Honorable Mentions
Cynthia Heide, Carrollton Elementary
Lisa Martin, Alliance Christian Academy
Shannon Blanco, Kellam High School
Barbara Taliaferro, W. T. Cooke Elementary
Anne Fowler, Nansemond Suffolk Academy
Dexter Warren, Hardy Elementary School
Anne Curtis, Norfolk Collegiate School
Cheryl Fortner, Westside Elementary School
Joleen Neighbours, Nansemond River High School
Pat Stoegbauer, Walsingham Academy
Jared Wilson, Norfolk Collegiate School
Carolyn Harris, Carver Elementary School
Angela Rizzi, Our Lady of Mount Carmel School
Kathryn Kelchner, St. Mary Star of the Sea School
Tim Duvall, Norfolk Collegiate School